'why' before the 'what'

We teach spiritual practices at GCC in our midweek Journey Bible Classes. In May, I’m teaching on solitude.

This week was our first, and I didn’t spend one minute on the ‘how’ of practicing solitude. We had to start with the ‘why’. Without remembering our motivation, spiritual practices become lifeless exercises of legalism wherein we try really hard to be more spiritual. At best, we get frustrated and give up. Even worse is the possibility that we persist and become less like Jesus every time we live out these practices for the wrong reasons.

These practices are rooted in our dependence on God. They’re inspired by the grace He has given us in Jesus Christ. They’re meant to create a space where we cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work to transform us. When we remember the ‘why’:

Solitude isn’t just ‘me time’, where I shut everyone out and enjoy a few minutes, hours, or days in which I never have to love anyone else. It’s a time in which I affirm God’s supreme worth in my life by removing anything that could distract me from Him. It’s a time in which I remember that I’m still incomplete, and He’s still working on me.

Celebration isn’t just an escape from everything that sucks about reality. (It’s no wonder that ‘celebration’ leads to so many destructive practices for us when it’s primarily an escape.) It’s intentionally choosing to remember that God’s eternal goodness is more real than our temporary suffering. We don’t tune out reality. We lean in harder, with eyes to see the forceful advance of God’s beautiful, love-filled kingdom even now.

Worship isn’t primarily about the feelings you get when you do it. It’s a choice you make, to train your whole self to recognize how worthy God is of everything you are and everything you’ve got.

Riding underneath all of this is the fundamental motivation that Jesus taught. These practices have to carry us toward loving God and loving others more and more. Any lesser motivation leaves us dry and empty. But growing in love will mean that not only are we transformed, but the world around us will be, too.